University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Monica O'Neil

Dancing in a Dumpster Fire: Physical and Moral Pollution in Euripides’ Bacchae, Footloose (1984), and the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Abstract: Herbert Ross’s 1984 film Footloose is a quintessential 80s movie. All elements of the zeitgeist are there: pop music, dancing, rebellious teens, high-waisted jeans, and, of course, prom. Yet a closer look at the film reveals themes and elements that are remarkably close to Euripides’ Bacchae (405 BCE). Ren, an 80s Dionysus figure, rolls into Bomont, Utah, from the east and immediately challenges the town’s ordinance against dancing set in place by the zealous, Pentheus-like Pastor Shaw Moore. As Ren gathers followers and converts, he threatens Pastor Shaw’s control over Bomont. Both the film and the play explore intergenerational conflict, political tension, gender blurring, fear of outsiders, and the ecstatic nature of dance. The film, however, diverges from the play at the most crucial moment, the bacchanal-prom. In light of Covid-19, this paper pays special attention to the mandates against dancing given in Thebes (Bacchae) and Bomont (Footloose), the physical distancing and mask mandates issued in the United States in 2020, and the public reaction against these measures.

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